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The primary role of a teacher is to deliver classroom instruction that helps students learn. To accomplish this, teachers must prepare effective lessons, grade student work and offer feedback, manage classroom materials, productively navigate the curriculum, and collaborate with other staff.
But being a teacher involves much more than executing lesson plans. Teaching is a highly sophisticated profession that regularly extends beyond academics. In addition to ensuring that students experience academic success, teachers must also function as surrogate parents, mentors and counselors, and even almost-politicians. There is almost no limit to the roles a teacher may play.
Teacher as Third Parents
Elementary school teachers contribute tremendously to student development. A child's experiences in their formative years shape them into the person they will become and teachers help in no small way to discover who that will be. Because teachers are such a big part of their students' lives, many develop almost parental relationships with them.
Due to the sheer amount of time that school is in session, teachers are tasked with being positive role models and mentors to their students every day. Students learn so much more than math, language arts, and social studies from their teachers-they learn social skills like how to be kind to others and make friends, when to ask for help or be independent, how to distinguish between right and wrong, and other life lessons that parents tend to echo. In many cases, students learn these things from teachers first.
The nuances of a teacher's role as a semi-parent largely depend on the age of their students but almost all teachers learn to care deeply for their students and always want the best for them. Whether a student is close with their teacher or not, they probably respect and revere them much like they do their own parents or guardians and teachers probably treat them as they would their own children. In some cases, teachers may be a student's only mentor.
Teachers as Intermediaries
Even though a teacher is often like a parent, that doesn't leave a child's real family out of the picture-teachers are only one part of a larger equation. Teaching demands almost daily communication with families about everything from academics to behavior. Some of the most common forms of parent-teacher interaction include:
- Parent-teacher conferences
- Progress reports
- Weekly newsletters
- Emails, texts, and calls
- IEP meetings
On top of these standard practices, teachers must often explain their choices to parents and conciliate them when there is conflict. If a parent or guardian finds out about something going on in the classroom that they don't like, a teacher must be prepared to defend their choices and their students. They must make informed decisions about how to act in their students' favor and then be able to justify these, always standing firm but hearing families out.
Teachers are the middlemen between parents and their children in education and parents are easily frustrated when they don't understand how or why something is being taught. Teachers must keep families in the loop as much as possible to prevent this but also be ready if someone is displeased with their decisions. Teaching entails always championing what is best for students and explaining how practices are beneficial as needed.
Teachers as Advocates
A teacher's role is ever-changing. While teachers were once issued curriculum materials with a clear set of instructions detailing exactly how to teach them, this was not an equitable or effective approach because it did not acknowledge student individuality or real-life application. Now, teaching is responsive-it evolves to fit the needs and demands of any political and cultural climate.
A responsive teacher counsels their students to use the knowledge they learn in school to become valuable members of society. They advocate for being informed and productive citizens by educating about social justice and current events. Teachers must always be aware, ethical, equitable, and engaged.
The modern teaching profession also (often) includes advocating for students on a political level. Many teachers:
- Work with politicians, colleagues, and community members to set clear and attainable standards for students.
- Participate in the decision making to deal with problems affecting students' learning.
- Mentor new teachers to prepare them to teach the youth of their generation.
A teacher's work is far-reaching and critical-the world just wouldn't be the same without it.
- Ryan, Mary, and Theresa Bourke. “The Teacher as Reflexive Professional: Making Visible the Excluded Discourse in Teacher Standards.” Discourse Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, vol. 34, no. 3, 24 Aug. 2012, pp. 411-423. Taylor & Francis Online.
- Taack Lanier, Judith. “Redefining the Role of the Teacher: It's a Multifaceted Profession.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 1 July 1997.
- “What Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers Do.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, United States Department of Labor, 4 Sept. 2019.